Post Card from Alsace: Grapes and the Soil
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed May 13, 2003. For more information go to wineloverspage.com.
A box full of stones from the Kreydenweiss family vineyards in Alsace: Dark-gray granite, pale-tan schist, reddish sandstone. If there's anyone left out there who doesn't believe in terroir, the concept that the minerals in vineyard soil can communicate unique and identifiable flavors to the grapes and thus to the wine, I suggest a visit to Alsace for further instruction.
We spent a few days last week touring this hospitable and picturesque section of Northeastern France, where France and Germany meet along the Rhine, and where some of the world's most interesting white wines come from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and a few other grapes grown along a narrow strip where the fertile river valley meets the wooded, gently rounded Vosges ("Vowzh") mountains.
Marc and Emanuelle Kreydenweiss met us at their small but modern family winery in the village of Andlau, where we tasted through many of the dozen wines they make using strictly "biodynamic" techniques, a somewhat controversial form of organic growing that adds what many might consider astrological theory to standard organic-farming practices.
Whatever the technique, the wines were compelling - and like most of the best Alsatian wines, they presented - along with ripe, delicious fruit - a firm structure based on a stony, steely minerality that showed marked and consistent differences among wines from specific vineyards with differing soils. Using a box of rocks as reference, we could make out consistent differences in Rieslings grown in vineyards containing granite, schist or sandstone.
Did the wines taste like rocks? Of course not. But vineyard differences showed up in subtle variations of character as apparent as those you might see in, say, brothers and sisters: related by family but each distinct and individual.